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US committed to Indo-Pacific strategy despite change of presidency, says outgoing NSA

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NEW DELHI: The United States – as a Pacific power – will remain committed to its Indo-Pacific strategy, notwithstanding a change of Presidency, and will stand with allies and partners to deter Chinese aggression, said outgoing national security adviser Robert O’Brien.

This is being viewed as assurance to American associates in the region including India, one of Washington’s closest strategic partners in Asia.

“We’re not going to be pushed out of the Indo-Pacific region. We’re going to fight for a free and open Indo-Pacific region with all of our friends and partners. And I think when we send that message – that peace-through-strength message – is the way to deter China. It is a way to ensure the peace, and it’s a way to make sure that there’s no war in the region,” Brien said on Monday during a briefing for select media persons from Manila.

The recent Indo-US 2 +2 meet held in New Delhi focused on partnership to ensure a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region in the backdrop of Chinese aggression across the Indo-Pacific region, including along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, following his India trip, visited the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Vietnam to assure support for safeguarding stability in the region.

However, there has been speculation that the incoming Joe Biden presidency – which will be heavily focused on domestic issues initially – may not be able to fully commit to the foreign policy agenda.

In Monday’s briefing however, O’Brien reiterated the USA’s tough stance on China, saying there was bipartisan alarm about a range of issues, including China’s trade practices, “human rights violations” and “not to mention the release of the Covid-19 virus on the whole world”.

He was on a visit to Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

In Manila, O’Brien had appeared to signal that Washington’s tough position on the South China Sea dispute had bipartisan backing.

“…The United States is a Pacific power. We have a long Pacific coastline, like many, many of the countries from where folks on this call hail from. We are also a major Pacific power and we have long-term commitments here. And we’ve had those commitments whether we’ve been led by a Democrat or a Republican president,” he said.

“I think there is a bipartisan consensus now that China’s unfair trade practices, their theft of intellectual property, their attempts to coerce their neighbours, and their human rights violations in Xinjiang with the Uyghur people, the extinguishing of the flame of democracy in Hong Kong, attempts to coerce Taiwan – I think all of those activities, not to mention the release of the Covid-19 virus on the whole world, either if it was accidental or even if it was natural, the Chinese covered up the virus and they silenced those who tried to raise the alarm in China. They allowed travel from China to the rest of the world when they were shutting down travel within China. They bullied the WHO to give false information about the virus not being transmittable from human-to-human, or by aerosol,” he added.

O’Brien emphasized that there was bipartisan consensus in America that it had to stand up to China.

“…we want great relations with the Chinese people. We want great relations with the Government of China. We don’t take a position on their government. But what we do object to is attempts by the Chinese and the Chinese Communist Party to meddle in American politics, to meddle in our elections, to meddle in our policy, to meddle in the internal affairs of our allies like Australia, which was recently given a 14-point demarche by China basically saying that if you don’t become a tribute to China, we’re not going to buy your products. That sort of behaviour is something that really turns off Americans of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, and I think it’s something that folks in the region – whatever country in which they live – are very concerned about,” he said.

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